Sustainable Travel

Green Travel Tips

Many people hear the terms “green travel” or “ecotourism” and picture someone sleeping in a treehouse in the jungles of Borneo or canoeing down the Amazon. But this type of eco-adventure is just one end of the green travel spectrum. You don’t need to sacrifice creature comforts or go off into the middle of nowhere to be a green traveler; you can visit big cities or small villages, and stay in small ecolodges or luxury hotels. All that’s required is an effort to preserve and protect the environment of the place you’re visiting — and it’s easier than you might think.

Want to learn how? Read on….

What is Green Travel?

“Green travel” is one of many catchphrases — like ecotourism, sustainable travel, and responsible travel — that are bandied about with increasing frequency these days. But what exactly do these terms mean?

There are various shades of difference among all these terms, but at the heart of the matter is the importance of protecting the natural and cultural environment of the places you visit. That means conserving plants, wildlife, and other resources; respecting local cultures and ways of life; and contributing positively to local communities.

Why Go Green?

With over 1 billion tourists crisscrossing the globe every year, it’s more important than ever for travelers to minimize their individual impact on the earth’s natural and cultural treasures. The potential negative effects of tourism are both local and global; oceanfront hotels contribute to beach erosion in Hawaii, rising numbers of visitors threaten the fragile ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, and carbon dioxide emissions from planes are a growing contributor to global warming.

Taking a green approach to travel is an easy and essential way to protect the places you love to visit, not just for yourself but for the travelers who come after you and for the people who will continue to live there long after you’ve flown home. As an added bonus, it often makes for a more rewarding, authentic travel experience, encouraging deeper connections with the people and places you visit.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily have to pay more in order to travel green. While offsetting the carbon emissions from your air travel will set you back a negligible amount (usually between $10 and $40 per flight, depending on the length), you can find green lodging options in all budgets, from hostels to luxury hotels. And earth-friendly transportation options like biking, walking and taking public transit are often cheaper than taking a cab or renting a car.

[st_related]8 Ways Green Travel Can Save You Money[/st_related]

Choosing a Green Hotel

There are a number of Web sites that list environmentally friendly hotels, B&B’s and lodges around the world; these are a good place to start. Keep in mind that each site has its own guidelines for rating properties, so you’ll want to do your homework to make sure that the hotel meets the standards you’re looking for. And don’t forget to check out our top ecolodges and green hotels.

A few questions to ask before booking your hotel:

  • Is the hotel locally owned and operated? If not, is it at least staffed by local employees?
  • What kind of recycling programs does the hotel have (aluminum, plastic, paper, gray water, composting)?
  • Do guests have the option to reuse towels and sheets instead of having them changed every day?
  • What programs does the hotel have to reduce consumption? Examples include energy-efficient lighting, low-flow toilets and showers, and alternative energy sources like solar or wind power.
  • How does the hotel contribute to the local community?

During Your Stay

Even if you’re not spending the night in an eco-lodge or green hotel, there are still several easy steps you can take to make your stay more eco-friendly.

  • Keep your showers short, and shut off the water while you’re brushing your teeth.
  • When you leave the room, turn off the air-conditioning, heat, television, lights or any other electric devices.
  • Reuse your sheets and towels instead of having them changed every day. Many hotels will not replace your towels if you leave them hanging up neatly; if you’re not sure, write a note for the housekeeping staff or notify the front desk.
  • Bring your own toiletries and drinking cup rather than using the prepackaged ones provided. If you do use the hotel’s toiletries, take them with you and use them at home or during the rest of your trip.
  • Know your hotel’s recycling program and sort your trash accordingly. If your hotel doesn’t recycle, consider taking your empty bottles or other items home with you to recycle them there.
  • Give your hotel feedback. Express your appreciation for any eco-friendly programs it currently offers, or if it doesn’t, encourage the management to go green in the future.

Getting Around

Transportation, particularly air travel, is where most travelers have the biggest environmental impact. According to USA Today, a flight from New York to Denver produces as much carbon dioxide per passenger as an SUV produces in a month. To minimize your environmental footprint, try the following steps:

  • Offset the carbon emissions produced by your flight.
  • For shorter trips, take the train instead of flying — especially in Europe or other regions where train service is fast and frequent.
  • When renting a car, choose the smallest vehicle that can comfortably accommodate you. Decline any “free” upgrades (which will cost you more in gas).
  • Rent a hybrid car.
  • Taking a long road trip? If your personal vehicle is large and not very fuel-efficient, consider renting an economy car instead. You’ll save gas and avoid putting miles on your own vehicle.
  • Whenever possible, use public transportation instead of taxis or rental cars. Better yet, walk or bike.

Responsible Sightseeing

When it comes to visiting the world’s most beautiful places, the old adage rings true: Take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints.

Travel with an environmentally friendly tour operator. Before you book, be sure to ask about group size (smaller groups tend to make less of an environmental impact), whether the tours are led by locals, how the tour operator gives back to the community, and what kind of lodging is included.

When hiking, always stay on marked trails and maintain a safe distance from any animals you encounter. Deposit your trash in marked receptacles or take it with you when you leave. Light campfires only in established fire rings and be sure they’re completely extinguished before you leave.

When snorkeling, do not touch the coral or stir up sediment, as these actions can damage the reef’s fragile ecosystem. Also, choose a reef-safe sunscreen; chemicals found in most sunblock lotions are harmful to coral.

Try to buy local products whenever possible instead of those that have been flown or shipped in from overseas. You’ll support the local economy and get a taste of native cuisine. Do not, however, buy souvenirs or other products made from endangered animals or plants, in most cases you can’t get them through U.S. Customs anyway.

Treat the locals with respect. Learn a few words in the native language, be open to cultural differences, and read up on the area before your trip so you’re sensitive to issues of dress and behavior.

Consider taking a volunteer vacation to give back directly to the place you’re visiting.

More from SmarterTravel:

Beach Fashion & Beauty

13 Stylish Swimsuit Cover-ups for Your Next Beach Vacation

Whether you’re imagining yourself in Hawaii, Florida, Tahiti, or the Caribbean, a week on the beach sounds pretty appealing right about now. Though it’s not yet clear when we’ll be able to take those dreamy beach vacations, you’ll want to be prepared with a cute cover-up to protect yourself from the sun as you make your way down to the sand. Check out the best beach cover-ups for your next tropical getaway.

Venus Deep V Cover-up Beach Dress

Venus Deep V Cover-up Beach Dress.

This simple, affordable cover-up from Venus comes in bright tropical colors or basic black to match any look. An adjustable drawstring under the bust helps you find a comfortable fit. This cover-up is available in a wide range of sizes from XS to 2X.

SHEIN Flounce Sleeve Floral Kimono

SHEIN Flounce Sleeve Floral Kimono.

Slip into this airy, lightweight kimono that packs easily and adds a touch of floral charm to any beach outfit. The three-quarter ruffled sleeves add a little sun protection without making you hot. Bonus: This swimsuit cover-up is ultra-affordable, too.

ELAN Cover-up Maxi Dress

ELAN Cover-up Maxi Dress.

Looking for a little more coverage? Try this plus-size maxi dress, which ties at the neck and has an elastic back so it always feels comfortable. It has a breezy fit and comes in a universally flattering black color.

Aerie Chiffon Kimono

Aerie Chiffon Kimono.

This one-size-fits-all chiffon kimono comes at an affordable price and has a cheery floral pattern. Its breezy slip-on style provides coverage without hassle. Its care is easy, too: It’s machine washable.

ELAN Maxi Cover-up Dress

ELAN Maxi Cover-up Dress.

This full-length cover-up comes in a variety of colors including black, denim, and mauve. A drawstring waist and V-shaped neckline create a flattering silhouette, and the slit skirt is easy to walk in.  

Eberjey Mediterranean Dream Blythe Dress

Eberjey Mediterranean Dream Blythe Dress.

This lacy beach cover-up is made from a combination of bamboo and cotton, creating a soft, lightweight fabric that you won’t want to take off. The dress features a scoop neckline and a thin belt at the waist.

J. Valdi Kimono Swim Cover-Up

J. Valdi Kimono Swim Cover-Up.

Just slipping into this beachy green and white kimono will put you in a tropical mood. The lightweight garment packs easily and ties in the front to keep it in place even on the breeziest beach days.

Seafolly Amelia Caftan

Seafolly Amelia Caftan.

This one-size-fits-all caftan is made of flowing cotton gauze with fun decorative tassels along the edges. Its midi length and short sleeves are long enough to keep you covered, but the billowing design ensures that you stay cool. The caftan comes in two attractive colors.

Kona Sol Striped Knit Beach Cover-up Hoodie

Kona Sol Striped Knit Beach Cover-up Hoodie.

This striped, hoodie-style beach cover-up has a handy front pocket for your phone or other small items, as well as a waist tie to keep the garment in place. The hood will keep you warm on breezy evenings by the shore.

Becca Etc. Tide Pool Cover-up Dress

Becca Etc. Tide Pool Cover-up Dress.

This cute tie-dye beach cover-up from Nordstrom is designed for plus-size travelers. The viscose material is mixed with a bit of spandex for a comfy stretch, and there’s a waist tie to keep the cover-up in place.

ELAN Smocked Waist Cover-up Pants

ELAN Smocked Waist Cover-up Pants.

If you’re only interested in covering up your bottom half, consider these wide-leg, smocked-waist pants from ELAN. They’ve got two side pockets where you can keep small items, and they look equally stylish at the beach or by the pool.

SHEIN Tropical Tie Waist Cover-up Skirt

SHEIN Tropical Tie Waist Cover-up Skirt.

For another fun bottom-only option, consider this tropical-print cover-up skirt from SHEIN. It ties at the waist for an easy-on, easy-off style. Lightweight and breathable, this skirt complements any beach outfit.

Eberjay Summer of Love Sofia Cover-Up

Eberjay Summer of Love Sofia Cover-Up.

This fun, flirty cover-up from Eberjay is long-sleeved and tunic-length, made of soft bamboo and cotton that make it ultra-comfortable to wear. Ruffles and a low-cut tie neck add a hint of retro 60s style.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. Codey Albers contributed to this story.

At Home Food & Drink

17 International Recipes That Bring Your Travels into Your Kitchen

When you’re between trips, one of the best ways to recapture the spirit of travel is to recreate the most delicious dishes you’ve tried on the road. The following are some of the best international recipes the SmarterTravel staff has cooked, fried, and baked in their own kitchens, ranging from comforting Vietnamese pho ga to spicy-sweet Dutch cookies.

Cacio e Pepe (Italy)

Cacio e pepe translates to “cheese and pepper,” and those are two of only a half-dozen ingredients you need to make this simple Roman dish (the others are olive oil, butter, salt, and spaghetti). It’s the ultimate comfort food. Get the recipe here.

Moroccan Couscous

moroccan couscous.

My favorite part of making this recipe is the first step, in which you gently toast half a dozen spices—including cumin, coriander, and cloves—until they fill your kitchen with a fragrance straight out of a Moroccan market. I often throw in some chopped-up chicken for a little protein. Get the recipe here.

Apple Tart (France)

This classic French dessert features flaky pastry topped with crisp Granny Smith apples, butter, and sugar, then brushed with an apricot glaze. The only thing better than the warm, sweet aroma while it’s baking is the way it tastes. Get the recipe here.

Falafel (Middle East)

fresh vegetarian falafel with tzatziki sauce, selective focus

Believed to have originated in Egypt, falafel is a classic street food found across the Middle East. The recipe involves mixing chickpeas, garlic, onion, and spices, then deep-frying in a neutral oil. Get the recipe here—and consider pairing it with the next dish on our list.

Tzatziki (Greece)

Served with gyros or falafel, or used as a dip for pita bread or veggies, tzatziki is popular throughout Greece, Turkey, and other neighboring countries. The main ingredients in this easy recipe are Greek yogurt, cucumber, fresh mint and dill, lemon juice, and garlic. (For best results, use full-fat yogurt.) Get the recipe here.

Pho Ga (Vietnam)

Pho Ga vietnamese soup noodles

Pho ga is the chicken version of Vietnam’s famous noodle soup—and if you have a pressure cooker, you can make your own in just half an hour. The list of ingredients is lengthy, from bean sprouts to coriander seeds, but the result is fragrant and comforting and oh, so worth it. Get the recipe here.

Cipate (Quebec, Canada)

cipate beef pie stew with dough topping

If you’re a meat-and-potatoes type, it doesn’t get much better than Quebec’s hearty cipate, or meat pie. Made with four different types of meat as well as potatoes, onions, and maple syrup, this dish will warm your bones on the coldest winter day. Get the recipe here.

Gyudon (Japan)

This dish of thinly sliced beef and onions, simmered in soy sauce and sake and then served over rice, is a popular comfort food across Japan. You can garnish the dish with a poached egg and your choice of toppings such as sliced scallions, red pickled ginger, or togarashi, a Japanese spice blend. Get the recipe here.

Baba Ghanoush (Lebanon)

Baba ganoush, arabian appetizer from tahini and baked eggplant,

Though this eggplant dip is believed to have originated in Lebanon, it’s popular across the Middle East. Start by charring the eggplant, then peel and mix with garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Serve with bread or vegetables for dipping. Get the recipe here.  

Scones (United Kingdom)

Cherry Scone with strawberry jam. in close up. Out of focus scones in the background.

Until you can visit the U.K. again and enjoy tea and a scone, why not try your own version at home? This recipe takes just half an hour and produces the fluffy scones you can buy at Fortnum & Mason, an upscale British department store. Get the recipe here. (Note that it calls for self-raising/self-rising flour; here’s a recipe.)

Potato Tahdig (Iran)

potato tahdig, iranian cuisine

Tahdig, a common Persian side dish, is the crispy, caramelized rice you find at the bottom of a pot of rice. When you add potato, the result is even more carb-filled goodness. The dish requires just five ingredients: basmati rice, russet potatoes, vegetable oil, salt, and saffron. Get the recipe here.

Fondue (Switzerland)

cheese fondue

Switzerland’s most famous food is tasty, comforting, and easy to make. You’ll need dry white wine, cornstarch, lemon juice, a garlic clove … and cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. Get the recipe here.

Ants in Trees (China)

spicy stir fry vermicelli with minced pork, classic Sichuan dish in chinese cuisine called " Ants climbing a tree "

Also known as “ants climbing a tree,” this Sichuan dish is so named because the bits of ground meat resemble ants climbing the noodle “twigs.” Fortunately, it’s much more appetizing than its name, thanks to a flavorful sauce featuring sambal chili paste, soy sauce, and rice wine. Get the recipe here.

Currywurst and Curry Ketchup (Berlin, Germany)

german currywurst - pieces of curried sausage

A beloved street food in Berlin, this combination of sausage, ketchup, and curry powder was invented by Herta Heuwer in 1949, incorporating ingredients she received from members of the British military. Get the recipe here.

Dulce de Leche (Argentina and Uruguay)

Dulce de leche in a metal tin can.

Though both Argentina and Uruguay claim to be the place where dulce de leche was created, its origins are less important than how delicious it is. This sweet paste can be spread on toast, stirred into ice cream, or mixed into cookies. And all you need to make it is a can of sweetened condensed milk. Get the recipe here.

Speculaas (Netherlands)

A stack of fresh baked dutch cookies called speculaas.

Speculaas are a popular Dutch cookie often served around Christmas. The combination of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and mace gives them a delightfully spicy flavor. Get the recipe here.

Hummus (Middle East/Mediterranean)

Hummus with olive oil, paprika, lemon and pita bread

Yet another dish of disputed origin, hummus is one of the most customizable international recipes. Patricia Magaña, senior editor at our sister site, Airfarewatchdog, offers a basic recipe to which you can add just about anything, from carrots or butternut squash to beets or basil: “Combine a 15-ounce can of garbanzo beans with a quarter cup of tahini, the juice from a large lemon, two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, one to three garlic cloves, and salt to taste. You can get creative with spices, such as sprinkles of cumin, paprika, parsley, or lemon zest. Pair your hummus with pita chips, naan, cucumber spears, red bell peppers, or just about any leftover in the fridge. I ran out of mayonnaise last week, so I spread my pineapple hummus on my veggie burger for an even tastier, healthier option.”

Our Favorite Kitchen Supplies:

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More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

At Home Fashion & Beauty Health & Wellness

The 10 Best Hand Creams to Hydrate Dry Skin

Most of us are practicing more frequent, thorough hand washing during the COVID-19 pandemic—which is good for our health but not necessarily for our skin. If your hands are starting to look like lizard skin, it’s time to step up your lotion game. Discover the best hand creams to rehydrate your thirsty skin (and keep in mind that when it’s time to fly again, these will be a good bet for the plane as well).

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

cerave moisturizing cream.

Frequently recommended by dermatologists (who also helped develop the formula), CeraVe Moisturizing Cream works by using essential ceramides to restore your skin’s protective barrier. It’s fragrance- and oil-free, and suitable for those with eczema and other skin conditions. Not just for hands, this thick cream can be used anywhere on the body, including the face.

O’Keeffe’s Working Hands

O’Keeffe’s Working Hands.

One of the best hand creams for dry, cracked skin, Working Hands helps restore moisture and recreate your skin’s protective layer—without leaving your hands greasy. It’s ultra concentrated, so you don’t need to use much to see results.

Burt’s Bees Ultimate Care Hand Cream

Burt’s Bees Ultimate Care Hand Cream.

If you’re looking for a hand cream without strong fragrances or chemicals, consider this option from Burt’s Bees. Ingredients include baobab oil, pumpkin oil, watermelon seed oil, green tea extract, and no parabens or phthalates. The formula includes a gentle exfoliator to help get rid of dry skin.

L’Occitane Shea Butter Intensive Hand Balm

L’Occitane Shea Butter Intensive Hand Balm.

This thick, healing cream is composed of 25 percent shea butter, which soothes and hydrates ultra-dry skin. While it’s formulated for your hands, you can also use it on feet or other dry parts of the body.

Vaseline Clinical Care Extremely Dry Skin Rescue

Vaseline Clinical Care Extremely Dry Skin Rescue.

This affordable hand cream is formulated for very dry skin, designed to restore the skin’s protective barrier. Fragrance-free and non-greasy, it is appropriate for sensitive and irritated skin.

Le Labo Hand Lotion

Le Labo Hand Lotion.

The soothing scent of Le Labo’s hand lotion was inspired by the hinoki trees that grow around the Buddhist temples of Mount Koya, Japan. Its vegan, cruelty-free formula features almond and safflower oil, moisturizing hands without leaving a greasy residue.

Clinique Deep Comfort Hand and Cuticle Cream

Clinique Deep Comfort Hand and Cuticle Cream.

Clinique’s moisturizing formula is designed to condition both hands and cuticles, and is free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and fragrance to avoid irritating sensitive skin. It’s also free of oil so you won’t be left with a greasy feeling on your hands.

Soap & Glory Call of Fruity Hand Food

Soap & Glory Call of Fruity Hand Food.

If fragrance-free isn’t your thing, pick up a tube of Hand Food, which smells good enough to eat thanks to a tropics-inspired blend of hibiscus, cantaloupe, and cedar. Nourishing ingredients include shea butter, macadamia oil, and vitamin E.

Aveeno Intense Relief Hand Cream

Aveeno Intense Relief Hand Cream.

Affordable and soothing, this non-greasy cream from Aveeno offers long-lasting moisture that persists up to 24 hours and even stands up to hand washing. The fragrance-free formula incorporates oatmeal and other emollients that are easy on sensitive skin.

Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream

Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream.

Designed for “dry, rough skin on faces, elbows, hands, and feet,” Skin Food incorporates beeswax and oils for an ultra-moisturizing formula. Weleda’s products are not tested on animals and do not contain synthetic preservatives or fragrances.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. Codey Albers contributed to this story.


The 11 Best Waterproof Backpacks for Traveling and Hiking

Your phone. Your DSLR camera. Your e-reader. Your travel documents. No matter what you’re carrying in your backpack, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected from unexpected rainstorms while you’re out traveling the world. The following waterproof backpacks for travel come in a variety of sizes and styles, but they all offer excellent protection for any weather.

This list also includes a few water-resistant backpacks that perform well in rainy conditions but might not stand up to an all-day downpour or a tumble into a lake. These can still be useful travel backpacks if you won’t be spending significant time outdoors.

Miggo Agua Versa Backpack

miggo agua versa backpack

With its versatile design and storm-resistant exterior, which protects fragile cameras and lenses from even heavy rain, Miggo’s Agua Versa may be the best waterproof backpack for photographers. You can carry the bag three ways: as a standard backpack, slung over one shoulder, or as a backpack with straps in an X position to make it easier to grab your camera. Inside is a padded, detachable bag to hold your camera and lens, plus compartments for a laptop, tablet, and power bank. There are also several external pockets for quick access to small items. The bag’s sturdy lycra and tarpaulin exterior will hold up to most inclement weather conditions.

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FE Active Cloudbreak Backpack

FE active cloudbreak backpack

The Cloudbreak from outdoor retailer FE Active is a dry-bag backpack that’s made of eco-friendly PVC tarpaulin for full waterproof protection during activities like hiking, camping, and kayaking. It’s got two netted side pockets for water bottles and a corded exterior to hold a jacket or other items. This roomy backpack can hold a laptop and multiple changes of clothes; when it’s completely full, however, you may have to check it rather than carrying it on a flight.

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RAINS Waterproof Drawstring Backpack

Rains waterproof drawstring backpack

The Waterproof Drawstring Backpack from RAINS is a small, chic waterproof daypack that’s perfect for city sightseeing. It’s large enough to hold the basics—a wallet, a water bottle, a tablet or book—without weighing you down. The main compartment has one interior pocket for your phone, and the bag is made of waterproof polyester and polyurethane.

Earth Pak Summit Dry Bag Backpack

Earth pak summit dry bag backpack

Another heavy-duty dry-bag backpack, this 35-liter bag from Earth Pak is ideal for travelers who don’t want to worry about water damage during their outdoor adventures. It’s roomy enough to pack for a weekend but small enough to use as a carry-on, and the sturdy PVC material protects everything inside, from camera equipment to clothing. Sternum and waist straps help you balance the load. Bonus: The bag comes with a waterproof case that fits smartphones up to 6.5 inches (measured diagonally).

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Chrome Hondo Backpack

Designed for commuters, the Hondo Backpack is also a good bet for business travelers seeking a waterproof laptop backpack. It has a 15-inch padded sleeve for your computer and keeps you organized with interior and exterior pockets. This waterproof travel backpack is comfortable to wear, thanks to plenty of padding and a chest strap to balance the weight, and it’s small enough to carry as your personal item on a plane.

Matador Freerain24 Backpack

Matador freerain24 backpack

When you’re carrying all your belongings on your back, the last thing you want is a heavy bag that adds a lot of extraneous weight. That’s why I like the Freerain24. At just 6.6 ounces, this waterproof hiking backpack won’t weigh you down as you’re scrambling up mountains or wading through streams. It’s got two side mesh pockets for water bottles, as well as a water-resistant front exterior pocket to hold items you need to access quickly. Between trips, you can fold it up into its own small sack for easy storage.

Kopack Waterproof Laptop Backpack

Kopack waterproof laptop backpack

The Kopack Laptop Backpack is a water-resistant backpack rather than a waterproof one—it’s made of water-repellent nylon that can handle spells of light to moderate rainfall. The laptop sleeve, which holds computers up to 17.3 inches, is located in a separate compartment against your back so it’s more difficult to break into, and there’s a smaller anti-theft compartment at the bottom rear of the bag where you can stash your phone or passport. Numerous other pockets keep small items like keys, sunglasses, and pens organized.

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Skog A Kust BackSak

Skog a kust backsak

The sleek BackSak, which comes in 25- and 35-liter options, closes in two different ways. Once you’ve rolled the top of the bag down a few times, you can clip the two ends to each other to create a carry handle on top of the bag, or you can attach them to the bag’s side clips to help you compress the load. Either way, this backpack is fully waterproof (though the company doesn’t recommend extended submersion). The bag has an interior and an exterior pocket, as well as reflective patches so you can see the bag in the dark.

MOS Blackpack

Travelers looking to stay organized will appreciate the Blackpack from MOS. This travel backpack comes with a built-in rainfly so your travel gear is safe from most weather conditions. With a 15.6-inch laptop pocket, dedicated tablet pocket, and mesh pockets, the Blackpack offers 27 liters of storage space. MOS also sells a power adapter that you can store in a special pocket to keep all your electronics charged while they’re in your backpack.

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Geckobrands Waterproof 30L Backpack

Though it’s not intended for full submersion, Geckobrands’ 30-liter backpack is otherwise fully waterproof as long as you tightly roll down the top at least three times before buckling. This dry bag backpack makes a handy companion on outdoor adventures, with padded shoulder straps that are comfortable to wear. The bag weighs just 0.6 pounds and folds up small when not in use.

Patagonia Stormfront Pack

Patagonia stormfront pack

If you’re looking for a waterproof backpack that will keep your stuff dry even if it’s submerged, consider the Stormfront Pack. Made of sturdy nylon that’s coated with thermoplastic polyurethane and durable water repellent, this 30-liter waterproof hiking backpack is ideal for outdoor adventures. It’s comfortable to wear thanks to padded straps and a removable waist belt, and at 21 x 12 x 9 inches, it fits most airlines’ carry-on size requirements. The exterior pocket is the only part of the backpack that isn’t fully waterproof, but it’s still a useful place to stow items such as a poncho or car keys.

What to Bring on Your Next Trip:

Looking for that perfect waterproof phone case for those days swimming or by the river? With full touch-screen functionality in the case, this is the perfect phone case for you. Tightly close the case to ensure that water doesn’t get in and sit back and enjoy your adventure.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Codey Albers contributed to this story.

Active Travel Outdoors Packing Travel Technology Women's Travel

The 9 Best Travel Hoodies

There’s nothing cozier than a hooded sweatshirt, especially on a long flight (or even just on the couch at home) when all you want to do is curl up and get comfortable.

What’s the Best Travel Hoodie for You?

My favorite travel hoodies have nifty features such as extra pockets, sun protection, or built-in pillows. Discover the best travel hoodie for your next trip.

Ugg Nancy Zip Fleece Hoodie

Ugg Nancy Hoodie

Lined with a stretchy cotton fleece, this easy-going hoodie will keep you warm and cozy. Available in neutral colors, the Ugg Nancy Zip Fleece Hoodie will go with any outfit.

The North Face Take Along Pullover Hoodie

The North Face Hoodie

Always cold? Try The North Face Take Along Pullover Hoodie, a sweatshirt with plenty of extra length to keep you warm below the waist. This thick hoodie was designed for camping adventures, but works just as well inside a chilly house.

SCOTTeVEST Chloe Glow Hoodie

From the outside, SCOTTeVEST’s Chloe Glow Hoodie looks like an ordinary, if attractive, microfleece sweatshirt for women. It’s not until you put it on that you realize just how much you can fit into its 14 pockets, cleverly designed to hold phones, tablets, glasses, passports, and other small items. Many of the pockets are on the inside of the hoodie, making them less accessible to potential thieves. Bonus: The main zipper goes all the way up to the hood, so you can protect all or part of your face in windy conditions.

SCOTTeVEST Hoodie Cotton

Men looking for a similar travel hoodie can try this sweatshirt from SCOTTeVEST, which has a whopping 21 pockets. Besides all the storage space, the best feature for travelers is the “Do Not Disturb” eye mask that flips down from the hood to block out the world—perfect for a long flight or train ride.

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BOMBAX Zip Up Travel Hoodie

Do you have trouble sleeping on planes? If so, the Zip Up Travel Hoodie just might help. The hoodie comes with an inflatable neck pillow you can pack into one of the pockets. With 10 pockets for your passport, tablet, and other travel accessories, getting through airport security will be a breeze. If you’re traveling in a colder climate, you’ll appreciate the built-in gloves and eye mask.

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Aros Inflatable Hoodies

Another intriguing option for sleep-challenged travelers is the Aros line of unisex hoodies, which includes both pullover and zip-up models. Instead of lugging a bulky travel pillow onto the plane, wear one of these travel sweatshirts; inside the hood is an insert that you can inflate and turn into an instant pillow. (Don’t forget to remove the insert before washing the sweatshirt.)

Woolly Clothing Merino Wool Hoodies

woolly clothing men's merino wool hoodie.

On planes, the only person less popular than a screaming kid is a passenger with bad body odor. Don’t be that guy. Instead, give the Woolly Clothing Men’s Merino Wool Henley Hoodie a try. This travel hoodie for men is made of fabric that wicks away moisture, fights odors, and dries quickly, making it ideal for stressful sprints through the airport or for active excursions during your trip. Find a similar option for women here.

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Coolibar Sun-Protective Travel Hoodies

If your vacations typically involve lots of time outdoors, shield your skin with a travel hoodie that includes sun protection. Coolibar offers a full line of sun-protective clothing, including the Seaside Hoodie for women and the Packable Jacket for men. Both feature an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50+ and are made with soft, lightweight fabrics.

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ORORO Unisex Heated Hoodie

This multi-purpose heated hoodie has a battery pack that can both warm you up and charge your phone. Core-warming zones on the front and back of this unisex travel sweatshirt keep you nice and toasty no matter how low the temperature falls. The battery lasts anywhere from two to eight hours, depending on how high you turn up the warming zones. Supply your own USB cable and you can plug your phone or other device into the battery pack for an emergency charge.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

At Home Health & Wellness

Do Weighted Blankets Work? Here Are the 5 Best Ones to Try

If you’ve ever felt anxious or had trouble sleeping, you’ve probably had someone recommend that you try a weighted blanket. These have grown immensely in popularity over the past couple of years, touted for benefits such as reduced stress, better sleep, treatment for autism and PTSD, and even chronic pain relief. But do they really work, and what are the best weighted blankets to buy? Check out the Q&A below to learn more. 

What Is a Weighted Blanket?

A weighted blanket is filled with plastic pellets, glass beads, or simply thick fabric to create a heavy bed cover weighing anywhere from five to 30 pounds. Many people find the extra weight comforting, drawing comparisons to a hug or the swaddling of a newborn. Weighted blankets have been touted for benefits such as reduced stress and better sleep.

Do Weighted Blankets Help with Anxiety?

According to SELF, weighted blankets are thought to reduce anxiety through deep pressure touch stimulation, which helps calm the autonomic nervous system that controls your fight-or-flight response.

The scientific data supporting the use of weighted blankets for anxiety is currently limited. One small study found that 63 percent of participants reported less anxiety after using a 30-pound weighted blanket, but the study only involved 32 people. Another study involved psychiatric patients, who reported less distress and anxiety after using weighted blankets.

The SELF story above notes that the placebo effect is common with anxiety, making it even more difficult to determine how effective weighted blankets are.

Do Weighted Blankets Work for Insomnia?

Because insomnia is often linked to stress and anxiety, the calming effect of deep pressure touch stimulation is thought to help the body relax for sleep. However, there is similarly limited evidence to support the use of weighted blankets for sleep problems—and there are more proven options available.

“If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, or CBT-I, a specific treatment for insomnia with strong research support, is the recommended first-line treatment,” says Dr. Jana Scrivani, a clinical psychologist. “The National Institutes of Health lists it as a safe and effective treatment for insomnia. Additionally, a qualified therapist can help you to determine if anxiety is at the root of your sleeping difficulty, and work with you to treat that as well.”

Who Shouldn’t Use a Weighted Blanket?

“There are people with certain medical conditions who should not use weighted blankets while they sleep, and your medical doctor will be able to advise you as to whether its use may be contraindicated for you,” Dr. Scrivani cautions. A story from Harvard Health Publishing suggests that you should consult a doctor before using a weighted blanket if you have sleep apnea, other sleep disorders, respiratory problems, or chronic medical conditions.

Will a Weighted Blanket Make Me Hot?

If you tend to run hot while you sleep, the mere thought of lying under a heavy blanket might make you sweat. (Personally, I find my own weighted blanket ultra-cozy during the cooler months but store it in a closet over the summer.) That said, many “cooling” weighted blankets incorporate moisture-wicking fabrics and are designed to increase airflow and keep you from overheating.

How to Choose a Weighted Blanket

Most weighted blanket manufacturers suggest purchasing a blanket that’s about 10 percent of your body weight, so a 15-pound blanket would be appropriate for a 150-pound person, a 20-pound blanket would be best for someone weighing 200 pounds, and so on. If you’re between sizes, CNET recommends choosing the heavier option for more calming pressure—unless you have mobility issues that might make it difficult for you to push the blanket off.

The Best Weighted Blankets

Want to try a weighted blanket for yourself? Consider one of these highly rated options.

Tempur-Pedic Weighted Blanket

tempur-pedic weighted blanket.

The Tempur-Pedic Weighted Blanket comes in 15- or 20-pound options, each with a removable, machine-washable cover. The exterior is a plush polyester material, while the weight comes from glass beads.

Yaasa Weighted Blanket

yaasa weighted blanket draped across a chair.

This unique hand-knitted blanket is made of cotton and polypropylene, making for a beautiful and breathable design. Choose between 15- and 20-pound weights, and between cream and gray colors. Note that this blanket is dry clean only.

Amy Garden Weighted Blanket

amy garden weighted blanket.

This affordable weighted blanket from Amazon comes in a variety of colors and sizes. It has numerous layers of cushioning polyester surrounding a central layer of glass beads. Consider purchasing a removable duvet cover for easy machine washing.

Gravity Blanket

woman lying under gravity wieghted blanket.

The manufacturer claims that the Gravity Blanket is “the world’s most popular weighted blanket,” and it’s certainly proven popular with reviewers, most of whom have rated it with five stars. The blanket has a comfy, machine-washable microfleece cover and comes in 15-, 20-, and 25-pound weight options. Choose from gray, blue, or white.

Baloo Weighted Blanket

baloo weighted blanket on contemporary platform bed.

Baloo’s weighted blankets are made with breathable cotton and glass micro-beads that don’t trap heat, so you can use them in any season. The blankets are machine-washable and come in weights of 12, 15, 20, and 25 pounds.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. Codey Albers contributed to this story.

Arts & Culture Entertainment

14 Amazing Travel Memoirs to Read When You're Stuck at Home

At times when you can’t travel, the best travel memoirs can transport you to far-away places, helping to feed your wanderlust even if you’re currently confined to your couch. The travel memoirs below capture destinations as far-flung as India, Australia, and Antarctica, and are all worth adding to your to-read list.

Travels with Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck.

This classic travel memoir follows John Steinbeck and his French poodle Charley across the U.S. from New York to Maine to California and back again. Travels with Charley offers a striking portrait of early 1960s America, from dramatic natural landscapes and simmering racial tensions to quirky characters he meets along the way.

The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground, Rosemary Mahoney

The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground, Rosemary Mahoney.

From Spain’s 500-mile Camino de Santiago to the Ganges River in Varanasi, India, Rosemary Mahoney follows in the footsteps of religious believers on some of the world’s holiest journeys. The Singular Pilgrim blends humor, curiosity, and keen insight as Mahoney confronts her own Irish Catholic heritage and finds grace in unexpected places.

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, Tembi Locke

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, Tembi Locke.

“In Sicily, every story begins with a marriage or a death. In my case, it’s both,” writes Tembi Locke on the first page of this moving memoir. Locke, an African-American actress, falls in love with a Sicilian chef whose family disapproves of their union. But after her husband’s untimely death, Locke brings their daughter to Sicily and slowly forges a relationship with his family that helps them all heal.

In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson.

There’s a reason Bill Bryson is one of the most popular travel writers in the English language, and his signature wit and insight are on full display throughout In a Sunburned Country. As Bryson travels across Australia, he peppers fun facts with wry observations and conversations with cheery locals, bringing the country to life in his own inimitable style.

All the Way to the Tigers, Mary Morris

All the Way to the Tigers, Mary Morris.

The newest travel memoir in this list, All the Way to the Tigers is well worth a preorder. It covers two journeys in one: Morris’ recovery from a devastating injury and her subsequent trip to India in search of tigers. Morris offers both inspiration and insight in this beautifully written book.

Comfort Me with Apples: A Journey Through Life, Love and Truffles, Ruth Reichl

Comfort Me with Apples: A Journey Through Life, Love and Truffles, Ruth Reichl.

In Comfort Me with Apples, readers can eat their way around the world with food writer Ruth Reichl, sampling dry-fried shrimp in China and truffles in France. Reichl’s conversational writing style makes it feel like she’s talking to a friend—and her food descriptions will leave you hungry.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed

You might not expect a story of a woman hiking alone to be a page turner, but this international bestseller proves that wrong. Strayed writes about a period of crisis in her 20s, following the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage, when she made the brash decision to hike more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Washington. Her journey was as much emotional as physical, and Strayed writes about it in raw, visceral prose.

Ice Diaries, Jean McNeil

Ice Diaries, Jean McNeil.

In Ice Diaries, Jean McNeil combines personal stories from her childhood in the Canadian Maritimes with vivid descriptions of her four months in Antarctica, as well as journeys to other icy destinations such as Svalbard and Greenland. Whether you’ve traveled to Antarctica or it’s still on your bucket list, McNeil’s book offers fascinating insight into the continent’s history and landscape.

Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, Noo Saro-Wiwa

Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, Noo Saro-Wiwa.

Though she grew up mostly in London, Noo Saro-Wiwa made frequent visits to Nigeria to visit her father, an activist who was later executed by the government. As an adult, she returns to the country for a deeper exploration of its corruption, culture, and unexpected charms. Looking for Transwonderland uses insight and humor to paint a multifaceted portrait of Nigeria.

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, Pico Iyer

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, Pico Iyer.

Pico Iyer intended to spend his year in Kyoto studying Zen Buddhism at a monastery and learning about Japan’s traditional culture—but his plans are upended when he meets a woman named Sachiko. The Lady and the Monk details their relationship, marked by cross-cultural misunderstandings and Iyer’s deepening appreciation for Japan in all its complexity.

All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft, Geraldine DeRuiter

All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft, Geraldine DeRuiter.

Geraldine DeRuiter leads off the aptly titled All Over the Place with a wry disclaimer, noting that her book is not particularly informative and confessing, “If you follow my lead, you will get hopelessly, miserably lost.” But that only makes this book even more fun to read, as DeRuiter and her husband careen around the world, getting sick, getting lost, and falling even more deeply in love.

Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge, John Gimlette

If you’re drawn to the unfamiliar, Wild Coast is well worth a read. Gimlette takes readers to three rarely visited countries in South America—Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana—to reveal their colorful history, rare wildlife, and remote jungles.

The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen

The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen.

A masterwork of nature writing, The Snow Leopard details the author’s trek into the Himalayas in search of one of the Earth’s rarest and most elusive creatures. Matthiessen was a Zen Buddhist, and his memoir also includes his own internal journey toward a deeper understanding of the world around him.

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, Dervla Murphy

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, Dervla Murphy.

The ultimate adventure story, Full Tilt follows an Irish woman in the early 1960s on a solo bicycle expedition across Europe and through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, accompanied only by her .25 revolver. Murphy encounters snow, sunstroke, stomach trouble, and other discomforts, but her struggles are offset by the fascinating people she meets and the magnificent landscapes through which she rides.

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Adventure Travel Outdoors

The World's 11 Best Hot Air Balloon Rides

There’s no other experience like a hot air balloon ride: waking before first light, watching the sun rise as you drift over the hills and towns below, and then touching down to a Champagne breakfast. Exploring a new place from the basket of a hot air balloon offers a perspective you can’t get any other way.

Hot air balloon rides don’t come cheap, but in these 11 places they’re well worth the money, from the vineyards of Napa to the temples of Myanmar. Read on to discover the world’s best hot air balloon rides.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel abroad, and many of the destinations below have been affected by the pandemic to various degrees. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

Hot air balloons fly over Bagan, that always recognised as amazing buddhism landmark.

Scattered across the plains of the Bagan region in Myanmar are thousands of historic temples, pagodas, and monasteries, mostly built between the 11th and 13th centuries. You can explore them by bike, taxi, or horse-drawn cart, but to get a true sense of their scope, hop into a hot air balloon. The temple ruins look particularly beautiful by the golden light of sunrise. Recommended operators include Oriental Ballooning and Balloons Over Bagan.

Cappadocia, Turkey

view of hot air balloons flying over the Valley of Love in Cappadocia

Dotted with cave hotels and otherworldly rock formations (called “fairy chimneys” by the locals), Cappadocia’s landscape is best appreciated from the air. Dozens of companies offer hot air balloon rides over the Goreme Open-Air Museum, filling the early-morning sky with brightly colored globes that only enhance the incredible view. Recommended operators include Royal Balloon and Kapadokya Balloons.

Masai Mara, Kenya

Low flying hot-air balloon in the Masai Mara, Kenya

Game drives are one way to check the Big Five off your safari must-see list; hot air balloon rides are another. From your bird’s-eye perspective, you might spot wildebeest running across the savannah, a herd of elephants gathering at a watering hole, or hippos lurking in the Mara River. Recommended operators include Governors’ Balloon Safaris and Hot Air Safaris.

Melbourne, Australia

Hot air balloons passing by Melbourne, Australia.

While most hot air balloon flights travel over scenic countryside, in Melbourne you can enjoy a unique opportunity to get a bird’s-eye view of skyscrapers and streets. You’ll drift over the city’s landmarks, including the cricket stadium, the Shrine of Remembrance, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Yarra River. It’s a great way to get an overview of the city before or after exploring on land. Recommended operators include Picture This Ballooning and Global Ballooning Australia.

La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Hot Air Ballooning Costa Rica with Free Spirit

From a hot air balloon, your view of Costa Rica might include lush rainforests, remote mountain villages, and the cloud-shrouded Arenal Volcano. In the quiet of early morning you’ll likely even hear monkeys and birds calling from the treetops. Costa Rica’s hot air balloon rides are operated by Free Spirit.

Luxor, Egypt

Orange hot air balloon riding over the desert and ruins in Luxor Egypt

Drift peacefully over ancient temples, the Nile River, and the tombs at the Valley of the Kings on a spectacular hot air balloon ride above Luxor, Egypt. After landing, you’ll have the rest of the day to visit a few of the sites you glimpsed from the air. Recommended operators include Sindbad Hot Air Balloons and Hod Hod Soliman Hot Air Balloons.

Tuscany, Italy

Vineyards with hot air balloon near a winery before harvest in the tuscany wine growing area, Italy Europe

Walking around Tuscany’s historic hill towns is one travel pleasure; seeing them from the air in the soft morning light is another. Keep your camera ready as you sail over vineyards, stone farmhouses, quaint villages, and fields of sunflowers. Recommended operators include Ballooning in Tuscany and Tuscany Ballooning.

Queenstown, New Zealand

hot air balloon over lake in queenstown new zealand

There are plenty of adventurous ways to see Queenstown from the air, including hang gliding, paragliding, bungee jumping, and skydiving. But if you’re looking for a less hair-raising way to take in the area’s spectacular vistas, a hot air balloon ride might be just the ticket. Sunrise Balloons offers panoramic views over the Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu, and other natural attractions in the Queenstown/Arrowtown area.

Sedona, Arizona, U.S.A.

hot air balloon in sedona, arizona

The famous red rocks of Sedona, Arizona make for a stunning landscape unfolding beneath the basket of your hot air balloon. Keep your eye out for wildlife on the ground such as mule deer and coyotes. Recommended operators include Red Rock Balloon Adventures and Northern Light Balloon Expeditions.

Napa Valley, California, U.S.A.

hot air balloon over napa valley Up & Away Ballooning

While you’re in Napa enjoying a wine tour, why not book yourself a balloon ride and experience stunning views of the vineyards from up in the air? Try Up & Away Ballooning, which offers a post-flight brunch with mimosas to toast the start to your day.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A.

Balloons over the Rio Grande

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest hot air balloon event in the world. The event takes place in October each year; the highlight event is the mass ascension, when hundreds of balloons fill the sky in two waves. You can hop aboard a hot air balloon in Albuquerque any time of the year and experience stunning views of the Rio Grande. Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon and World Balloon are two recommended operators.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Noemi de la Torre contributed to this story.

Arts & Culture Entertainment

21 Sites Offering Virtual Tours and Live Streams for Travelers Stuck at Home

As the world grinds to a halt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many would-be travelers find themselves stuck at home, dreaming of their next trip. Fortunately, the internet is here to help. You can take a virtual tour of the world’s great art museums, watch live streams of adorable animals in aquariums and zoos, and even catch a Broadway show, all from the comfort of your couch.

Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

Though Italy remains in lockdown, the Vatican Museums have put a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel on their website so you can explore its magnificent artwork without the crowds.

Google Arts & Culture

Use the Street View section of Google Arts & Culture for a peek inside dozens of museums and landmarks, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Australian National Surfing Museum in Torquay, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Broadway HD

Broadway may be dark right now, but you can stream shows like Kinky Boots, Miss Saigon, and Macbeth through subscription service Broadway HD. You can start with a seven-day free trial, then pay a monthly or yearly fee.

Zoos Victoria, Australia

Two zoos in Victoria, Australia, are bringing some of their most popular critters visible through live cams. Tune in for a glimpse at penguins, baby snow leopards, giraffes, and lions.

The British Museum, London

Take a virtual tour through time and space as you explore the British Museum’s wide-ranging collections, from Japanese porcelain to ancient Egyptian artifacts.

The Metropolitan Opera, New York

Need a culture fix? The Met is streaming archived opera performances each night through March 29 while the opera house is closed, including works from Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and more.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, California

Be mesmerized by tropical fish, sharks, jellyfish, penguins, and birds on the live cams of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California.

The Frick Collection, New York

Survey the works of Old Masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer in a Gilded Age mansion with a virtual visit to the Frick Collection.

Skyline Webcams

What’s happening at the Roman Colosseum or at the Zocalo in Mexico City? Spoiler alert: Right now, not much. But there’s something soothing about being able to look out over famous landmarks and beautiful beaches, even if they’re eerily deserted at the moment. Check out the full lineup of destinations at Skyline Webcams.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid

Madrid’s Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, currently closed, is offering a virtual tour of its Rembrandt and Amsterdam Portraiture exhibition, scheduled to run through May 24.

National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

Get your fill of dinosaur fossils, minerals, Egyptian artifacts, and more with a virtual tour of this Smithsonian institution, including past and current exhibits.

Berlin Philharmonic, Berlin

The Berlin Philharmonic is making the performances in its Digital Concert Hall free for everyone who signs up by March 31.

San Diego Zoo, California

Let cute furry animals ease your cabin fever by tuning into the live cams from the San Diego Zoo, featuring koalas, pandas, polar bears, elephants, and more.


Providing 360-degree views of cities and natural areas across the globe, 360Cities offers a fun way to virtually visit rainforests, monasteries, and geysers. Check out the site’s curated collections or search on a world map.

Volunteer Park Conservatory, Seattle

Need a moment of Zen? This conservatory is posting daily live streams of plants and flowers on its Instagram account.

Yosemite National Park, California

Explore Yosemite’s waterfalls, lakes, and rugged rocks through the imagery at Virtual Yosemite.

The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam

Peek around the Secret Annex where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War II.

Google Earth

Take in 360-degree views of the Matterhorn, the Hoover Dam, the Florence Duomo, and more on Google Earth.

Florida Beaches

Give yourself a virtual vacation with rolling waves and sunshine from live cams across the Fort Myers and Sanibel areas of Florida.

Tenerife, Spain

See spectacular aerial views of beaches, mountains, parks, and rocky coast in Spain’s Canary Islands chain.

National Palace Museum, Taiwan

Navigate your way through the serene gardens and priceless exhibits of Taiwan’s National Palace Museum via this virtual tour.

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21 Bizarre Special Requests from Hotel Guests

Some of us have only humble hotel requests: fresh towels, a shower with hot water, maybe a restaurant reservation or two … and please, no bugs in the bed. But then there are the travelers who are just a little bit more demanding.

I reached out to 21 hotels, B&Bs, and inns to share the zaniest requests they’ve ever gotten from guests, and they responded with some doozies. From arranging doggie honeymoons to scattering plastic flamingos around the room, these concierges and innkeepers truly went beyond the call of duty.

Editor’s note: The following quotes come from general managers, communications directors, and other representatives of the listed properties.

Swimming with the Fishes

“We had one woman who wanted us to arrange a pedicure with fish that seemingly nibble the hard skin around your toes! And then we had a gentleman who wanted to be christened on Culloden Battlefield because he was convinced he was a Jacobite reincarnated!! We said no to the fish but yes to the christening—a retired minister did it for £75.” —Culloden House, Inverness, Scotland

How Much Did They Pay in Checked Bag Fees?

“Two hundred twenty-two pieces of luggage arrived with the Rolling Stones when they visited the hotel for just two nights in 2003. On another occasion, rock star Don Henley requested that his bed, stored in a truck that follows him on his travels, be placed in his hotel room. However, he later asked that it be removed because he found the Brown Palace bed so comfortable.” —The Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, Colorado)

At Least You Didn’t Have to Build an Igloo

“The most memorable request for us is the guest who asked for 20 pounds of ice for his penguins. The penguins visited a year or two ago as part of one of the exhibits at the Boston Globe Travel Show. They stayed in the bathtub when they weren’t on display at the show, which was held on site in the Seaport World Trade Center. Twenty pounds of ice actually isn’t too much, and we have multiple ice machines at Seaport, so we filled up four bags for them. We hope the ice helped to keep them comfortable during their stay!” —Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Boston, Massachusetts

In the Doghouse

“We were asked if we could accommodate a guest’s six chihuahuas and we duly obliged, as we have kennels in our underground car park. Another unique request: We had to keep the Jacuzzi private for a guest who wanted to propose to his girlfriend. (She said yes!)” —Cliff House Hotel, County Waterford, Ireland

Play Ball!

“Our area is a baseball mecca, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Every year, a new group of baseball greats is inducted into the Hall of Fame and stays at the hotel (from Babe Ruth back in the day to Andre Dawson). When Bruce Sutter (a pitcher who was first to make effective use of the split-finger fastball) was inducted, his baseball friends wanted to play a prank on him. Bruce had a gray beard, so the day before his induction 12 Hall of Famers, including the renowned Ozzie Smith, asked our concierge to purchase 12 gray beards. Somehow the concierge was able to do it (by traveling all the way to Albany), so when Bruce walked to the podium to accept his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the 12 baseball players were wearing gray beards to root him on.” —Otesaga Resort Hotel, Cooperstown, New York

Can We Get Our Horoscope Too?

“Here in southwest Scotland we are situated beside the Galloway Forest, a newly accredited Dark Sky area. That means very little light pollution, and on a clear night from our deck we can view galaxies including the Milky Way above our farmhouse as well as a sky full of stars, planets, comets, meteors, nebulae, and satellites. Our guests have asked for everything from stargazing guides and warm hats to steaming mugs of hot chocolate. We’ll even provide the services of a trained astronomer to show our guests around the constellations!” —Alton Albany Farm B&B, Barr, Scotland

“Honey? Why Is There a Flamingo in My Bed?”

“One hundred plastic pink flamingos were placed in a room at a guest request as a practical joke. We aren’t sure why the guest wanted them, but they were scattered everywhere—tub, bed, desk.” —The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Every Dog Has Its Day

“We put aside our pet-friendly suite for a bride and groom so they would have a place to go after their doggie wedding! Cricket (the bride), a therapy dog who works with seniors at a local residence for women, and Black Magic (the groom), a rescue dog, rode in a limo from the ceremony to our hotel, where we had a pet menu and a wedding cake waiting for them. (Cricket wasn’t too sure about sharing the cake with her groom, but their handler/owner had a way of convincing them to share.) They especially enjoyed their welcome gifts of ‘Hawthorne Hotel’ squeaky bones.” —Hawthorne Hotel, Salem, Massachusetts

That’s Something We’d Rather Choose for Ourselves…

“One guest asked us for a selection of ‘toys’ from Agent Provocateur [a U.K.-based adult clothing and novelty shop]. We got to choose.” —The May Fair Hotel, London, England

We Won’t Even Ask

“The strangest request we’ve gotten was ‘Do not touch the bed!’ The housekeeper was told, ‘Leave the bed alone.’ And a note found on the bed said ‘DO NOT TOUCH!’ Inquiring minds…” —White Cedar Inn, Freeport, Maine

‘Tis the Season

“[We] welcomed guests staying in December who decided to celebrate an early Christmas because he was shipping out for military service overseas. The concierges purchased a tree from one of the local greenhouses and had it placed in the room prior to their arrival. In advance, the wife shipped the concierges their holiday ornaments, stockings, and a few small gifts. Armed with all of those props, the concierges decorated the tree, hung the stockings, wrapped the presents, and staged their celebration all before the guests walked into the hotel for a magical Christmas holiday.” —Sofitel Magnificent Mile, Chicago, Illinois

Quick! Someone Call a Park Ranger

“We get a lot of interesting requests, as well as questions—like ‘What time of the year do the elk turn into moose?'” —Snake River Lodge, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Better Than a Yellow Submarine…

“A guest only wanted to stay in the hotel ‘if we had a fully yellow room.’ Thank God we do, and he finally checked in.” —Home Hotel, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sounds Like That Bachelorette Party Was a Little Too Much Fun

“A bride realized four hours prior to her wedding that she got her dress dirty the night before on a drunken adventure in Seattle. It was a trip to the local dry cleaner for our concierge—he had to assist the dry cleaner with cleaning the wedding dress and shortly after meet the bride at the wedding venue.” —Kimpton Hotel Vintage, Seattle, Washington

Why Don’t You Ask for the Prime Minister, Too, While You’re at It?

“A very affluent guest celebrating his son’s bar mitzvah once requested that the concierge arrange a football pitch and the Israeli soccer team to come and play a match against his son and his friends. Our concierge was able to put him in touch with one of the largest Jerusalem soccer teams, with which they were very pleased.” —Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, Jerusalem, Israel

Finders, Keepers

“Recently an A-list actress from a top-rated television series was staying with us and asked us to provide a personal steamer for her room. … We strive to fulfill any of our guests’ needs that will ensure they have a comfortable stay, so of course we had the steamer waiting in her room when she arrived. No problem, right? Except that despite being asked to leave the steamer in her room when she left, she took it with her.” —Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, San Diego, California

And What About the Feng Shui?

“We had a guest who requested a specific room because of the effect the sun at that angle had on their aura.” —The Eliot Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts

The Butterfly Effect

“On several occasions we have had brides ask that we keep their butterflies in our walk-in coolers for several days prior to their wedding ceremony in our garden, when the butterflies would be released. Unfortunately for our food and beverage department and our sales staff, it is not quite as easy as ‘butterflies shipped in, butterflies go in cooler, butterflies come out of cooler, container opens, butterflies are free, bride and wedding party smile with joy and happiness.’ The butterfly shipping crates list specific ‘thawing’ instructions so the winged lovelies will be active and full of wing at just the right moment. Too long in the cooler and you have butterfly lethargy … too much thawing time and the little lepidopteras become too active too soon and beat themselves up in the box wanting to escape.” —1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

He Can Practice on Us, Too!

“We once had a guest who was in town for a massage therapy seminar and asked if he could give some of our associates massages so that he could practice. That was one request we had no problem granting!” —The Roosevelt Hotel, New York, New York

What the Heck Is a Hinny?

“The wackiest guest request I ever received came by email from a travel agent in Tasmania. She wanted to book a week’s stay for her client, the Anglican Bishop for the State of Tasmania and his wife, and did I know of a place that [the wife] could ride a hinny? After several emails (and Googling the word ‘hinny’), I was quite prepared to meet this fantastic couple. We arranged for them to visit some of our Amish neighbors, she got to visit with their mules (the closest we could come to a hinny), and they made good friends within the community. All in all, it was a wonderful visit for all of us.” —Jan Garrabrandt, Innkeeper, The Artist’s Inn and Gallery, Terre Hill, Pennsylvania

Just Avoid the Beans and It’ll All Be Fine

The following letter was sent to the Hotel Versey Days Inn by Wyndham Chicago, and is so special that we’ll let it speak for itself:

“My baby Billy, who is a cute snorkeling piglet, is my most treasured pet that I cannot go anywhere without. … Billy just has a little problem: Every hour he likes to go outside and play with his soccer ball that he pushes around with his little snout. I tend to keep to his every hour playtime schedule because if not he’ll throw a fit and oink all night. … We want to ask if we’d be able to reserve a room near an exit door with two beds? I did forget to mention that Billy sleeps in his own bed with a fluffy pillow that he loves to lay his small pudgy head upon. By the way, it has been two years [since] Billy has had a runny accident on the bed. I admit that day he had that awful accident was my fault, because I overfed him beans with a chalupa. … I do promise that you will not have to worry about another accident because that is the last time I would ever feed him beans and chalupas.'”

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon, standing at the rim’s edge for the first time will take your breath away—especially if you’re there at sunset, as the fading light paints shades of rose, violet, and gold onto the ancient rocks. But planning a trip to the Grand Canyon requires more than just booking a hotel and packing your camera.

Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

When should you travel to avoid the heaviest crowds and the most intense heat? Should you visit the North Rim or the South Rim? Where’s the best place to stay? For answers to these questions and more, read the following tips for planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Editor’s note: Many Grand Canyon facilities and tour operators have temporarily closed or made other modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check each provider’s website for full details before making plans.

South Rim vs. North Rim vs. Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon National Park is split into two sections: the South Rim and the North Rim, located more than four hours apart by car. Then there’s Grand Canyon West, located on the Hualapai Native American Reservation, four hours from the South Rim and nearly seven hours from the North Rim. If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and your time is limited, where should you go?

The South Rim is the most visited part of the Grand Canyon for a reason. It has more viewpoints than the North Rim, with more expansive views of the canyon’s depth, as well as a wider range of lodging options and other visitor services. It also has plenty of hiking trails and activities like river rafting and mule rides. If you’re looking for classic Grand Canyon views, this is the place to go.

Popular with hikers and photographers, the North Rim is the South Rim’s quieter, more heavily forested cousin. While the views may be less spectacular, many travelers prefer the North Rim for its undisturbed wildlife and pristine trails.

The key draw at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon for dizzying views on all sides—including right under your feet. (Important note: The Skywalk does not permit cameras or phones. Professional photos are available for sale.) This isn’t the best bet for avid hikers, as there are only two (relatively easy) trails here, but other activities include zip-lining, pontoon boat rides, and touring a Native American village. Grand Canyon West is the closest part of the canyon to Las Vegas, making it a convenient, though long, day trip.

Note that because Grand Canyon West is located on Native American land, it requires a separate entry fee than the North and South Rims, which are administered by the National Park Service.

When to Visit the Grand Canyon

planning a trip to the grand canyon

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, consider visiting the South Rim any time other than summer—especially if you’re hoping to hike all the way down to the bottom of the canyon, where temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. Summer is also the busiest time of year; lodging in the park is expensive and sells out quickly, and viewpoints along the rim can be jammed with crowds.

The South Rim is open all year round, and you’ll find pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). Even a winter visit can be rewarding; bundle up and enjoy the sight of the canyon dusted with snow.

Thanks to its higher altitude, the North Rim has a cooler climate and is closed between mid-October and mid-May. Fortunately, this part of the park sees fewer visitors and isn’t usually crowded even during the summer high season. Consider visiting in the fall, when the Kaibab National Forest erupts in vibrant colors.

Grand Canyon West, open year-round, is less crowded outside the summer months.

Getting to the Grand Canyon

Most visitors to the Grand Canyon fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix. There’s also a small airport in Flagstaff, just an hour from the South Rim, and some North Rim travelers fly into Salt Lake City. No matter where you land you’ll need to rent a car, as public transit is extremely limited in this part of the U.S.

Once you arrive at the Grand Canyon, you might need to park your car and take a shuttle bus to get around. Grand Canyon West is closed to private vehicles and operates a hop-on, hop-off shuttle around the park, while certain parts of the South Rim are only accessible by bus. A shuttle service makes the 4.5-hour trip between the North and South Rims; it’s particularly handy for rim-to-rim hikers. The North Rim is fully open to private vehicles.

One fun alternative way to arrive at the South Rim is via the Grand Canyon Railway, which runs from the town of Williams, Arizona, into the heart of the park, allowing for a half-day of exploring before returning in the afternoon.

Grand Canyon Lodging

The most convenient Grand Canyon lodging options are within the national park or Grand Canyon West rather than in nearby towns, but these options tend to book up quickly—sometimes months in advance. When planning a trip to the Canyon, reserve your accommodations first.

The South Rim section of Grand Canyon National Park is home to half a dozen lodges, including the venerable El Tovar, which dates back to 1905 and has hosted former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Another option is the Bright Angel Lodge, situated at the top of the park’s most popular trail. There’s also an RV park near the main visitor center, as well as two campgrounds.

If you can’t find lodging within the South Rim section of the park, there’s a handful of options in nearby Tusayan, as well as dozens of hotels (mostly chain motels) in Williams and Flagstaff, each a little more than an hour from the park entrance gates.

The North Rim has just two places to stay inside the park: the Grand Canyon Lodge, which offers motel rooms and cabins, and the North Rim Campground. If these are booked, consider the Jacob Lake Inn, 45 miles away, or head farther afield to Kanab, Utah, or Page, Arizona.

The most unique place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park is Phantom Ranch, located on the canyon floor. The only ways to get there are to hike or ride a mule down.

If you want to stay overnight within Grand Canyon West, you can book a cabin at Hualapai Ranch; each one features a front porch where you can relax and enjoy the desert views.

Grand Canyon Hikes

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, leave time for a hike or two.

The simplest walk at Grand Canyon National Park is the Rim Trail, which stretches for 13—mostly flat—miles along the top of the South Rim. Much of it is paved and wheelchair-accessible, and you can enter and leave the path at any viewpoint.

If your fitness allows, try to hike at least part of the way into the Grand Canyon; you’ll get a completely different perspective than you do from the top.

The most popular South Rim trail into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail, which is well maintained and offers some shade along the way. Another good option is the South Kaibab Trail—it is a little steeper and has less shade, but boasts slightly more dramatic views if you’re only doing part of the trail. While both of these trails go all the way to the bottom, you can easily transform each of them into a day hike by turning around at one of the mile markers and going back the way you came.

The North Rim offers a variety of day hikes ranging from less than a mile to about 10 miles round-trip. It’s possible to hike into the canyon from the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail and back out of the canyon via one of the trails on the South Rim (or vice versa); this is recommended only for fit, experienced hikers.

For information on all the trails listed above, see the day hiking information page on

The National Park Service strongly recommends against hiking down to the river and back in a single day, even if you’re a veteran hiker. Instead, plan to overnight at Phantom Ranch or one of several backcountry campgrounds within the canyon.

Keep in mind that it usually takes twice as long to come back up the trail as it does to go down, and that temperatures at the bottom of the canyon can be up to 20 degrees higher than those at the top. Hundreds of hikers are rescued each year from the canyon due to dehydration, heat exhaustion, or injury.

Grand Canyon West offers just two hiking trails, one easy and one moderate, and neither one goes into the canyon.

One intriguing Grand Canyon hike to consider is the 10-mile (each way) track to Havasu Falls, the famous turquoise cascade you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed. It’s located on Native American land between the South Rim and Grand Canyon West. Reservations are required (and limited). To learn more, see the NPS website.

Mule Rides, Rafting Trips, and Helicopter Tours

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t forget about other activities besides hiking, like riding a mule into the canyon. (Why a mule? They’re more sure-footed than horses.)

From the South Rim you can ride a mule to the Colorado River and spend a night or two at Phantom Ranch, or take a shorter two-hour ride along the rim. (See From the North Rim you can take one- or three-hour rides along the rim or part of the way into the canyon. (See Book as far in advance as possible to guarantee yourself a spot.

Dreaming of rafting the Colorado River? You can take a guided trip in the national park with options from a half-day to more than two weeks, or plan your own trip with a permit from the National Park Service. To plan a one- or two-day rafting trip at Grand Canyon West, visit

Finally, one of the most incredible ways to view the Grand Canyon is from the air. Numerous companies operate helicopter tours over the canyon, including Grand Canyon Helicopters and Papillon.

General Grand Canyon Travel Tips

As soon as you arrive, stop by the visitor center—especially if you have limited time. Park rangers can help design an itinerary to make the most of your visit, suggest hikes to suit your fitness level, and recommend the best viewpoints for sunrise and/or sunset.

The desert heat can be deadly, so hikers should pack plenty of water as well as salty snacks. Bring a reusable bottle that you can fill up at water stations located throughout the national park. Start hiking early in the morning to avoid the midday sun. If you get a headache or start to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, stop to rest and rehydrate.

The South Rim is located at 7,000 feet above sea level, and the North Rim is at nearly 8,300 feet. Some travelers may experience fatigue, headaches, or other symptoms of altitude sickness.

Stick to the trail. Not only does this protect the landscape, but it also protects you. Numerous tourists have died after falling from the rim of the canyon.

The most crowded viewpoints at the South Rim are those nearest the parking lots and bus stops. To avoid getting a hundred other people in every photo, walk along the Rim Trail in either direction. Often you can snap great shots along the trail or find your way to a less congested viewpoint.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.


What Every Traveler Should Know About Travel Advisories and Alerts

These days, you’re probably not planning a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan—most nations are currently advising citizens against all non-essential travel to these countries. And due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, governments around the world are issuing even more travel advisories and alerts than usual.

Though global crises such as pandemics should always be taken seriously, not every government travel warning means you need to immediately cancel a trip to a particular part of the world. In fact, within the past few years the governments of the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. have released travel advisories and alerts about the following popular tourist destinations: Thailand, Mexico, China, India, and even the United States.

Before you decide to avoid these countries altogether, it’s worth taking a closer look at what a government’s travel advisories and alerts mean, why they’re released, and how to evaluate them.

What Is a Travel Advisory?

Governments issue travel advisories to let their citizens know about safety concerns that may affect travel to a particular country or region. Travel advisories may also note parts of the world where a government does not have the ability to respond to the problems of citizens traveling there—for example, if the government doesn’t have an embassy in a particular country, or if the functioning of its embassy is threatened by local violence.

In the United States, travel advisories are issued by the State Department.

The State Department’s travel advisories detail a variety of potential risks in a given destination, including terrorism, natural disasters, political unrest, wars, health concerns, and outbreaks of crime. The State Department offers travel advisories for all countries across the globe, along with a risk level for each on a scale of one (“exercise normal precautions”) to four (“do not travel”). In some cases, certain regions of a country may have a higher rating than the country as a whole.

The State Department uses eight different letters to denote the reasons for its travel advisory levels:

  • C: Crime
  • T: Terrorism
  • U: Civil unrest
  • H: Health risks
  • N: Natural disaster
  • E: Time-limited event
  • K: Kidnapping or hostage taking
  • O: Other

Travel advisories may remain static for months at a time, or they may change rapidly when circumstances demand.

Governments occasionally publish global or worldwide travel advisories in extraordinary circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed countries such as the United States, Canada, and New Zealand to advise their citizens against any non-essential international travel.

What Is a Travel Alert?

Travel alerts are issued to cover “specific safety and security concerns in a country, such as demonstrations, crime trends, and weather events,” according to the State Department. Alerts often come from embassies and consulates and may cover breaking news or shorter-term problems for travelers.

Alerts don’t necessarily mean “don’t travel,” but rather contain information that’s worth knowing about so you are prepared.

Unlike travel advisories, which can remain in place for months, alerts tend to be much shorter-lived; most alerts on the State Department’s country pages are less than a month old.

How to Evaluate Travel Advisories and Alerts

In general, a travel advisory—no matter how strongly worded—cannot legally stop you from traveling to a particular place. After reading an advisory, it is up to you to decide whether to heed or ignore the advice, and to determine whether your planned trip is essential or not. While your government will usually try to help you if you run into trouble abroad, you will always be traveling at your own risk.

Not all travel warnings are created equal. When deciding how seriously to take a particular travel advisory, below are a few questions to ask yourself.

Is the Entire Country Affected?

In many cases, violence, unrest, or natural disasters are confined to a particular region while the rest of the country is still safe and welcoming to tourists. For example, in recent years the U.K. has cautioned visitors against traveling in Gulf Coast states of the U.S. during hurricane season. And while Mexico’s recent struggles with violence are well publicized, government warnings apply only to select states; many popular tourist destinations such as the Mayan Riviera have remained safe.

While your well-being always comes first, keep in mind that the fallout from an isolated act of violence can affect an entire country’s tourist industry—and have a disproportionate effect on the economy of a developing nation.

What’s the Danger?

For travel advisories dealing with violence or terrorism, pay attention to what kind of attacks are taking place and who the targets are. Assaults that specifically pinpoint foreign tourists should raise a bigger red flag than civil unrest among locals. If violence generally happens away from primary tourist locations, there may be less risk for visitors.

How Up to Date Is the Warning?

If you’re looking at a travel alert that’s more than a few months old, it may be worth doing a little research to check the current situation on the ground and see if there’s been any improvement. The websites of international newspapers are often a good source of accurate and up-to-date information. Searching Google News can help you find these. (Compare multiple sources to avoid being taken in by less reputable publications.)

Is the Warning Corroborated by Other Governments?

To get a fuller sense of what’s happening in a particular country, check travel warnings from multiple sources (see our links below). Critics have speculated that some advisories are unduly influenced by politics, so checking a U.S. advisory against a Canadian or an Australian one can give you a fresh perspective—or confirm that a threat is cause for a change in your travel plans.

Will You Have a Safety Net?

Find out whether your home country has an embassy or consulate in the place you want to visit, and make sure it’s fully staffed and functioning. If the worst happens, you don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country without an embassy to help with emergency evacuation or to get you in contact with family and friends at home.

Is Travel Insurance an Option?

Keep in mind that travel insurance may not cover you in all countries or circumstances. According to, most policies do not cover acts of war, riots, or civil disorder. Other exclusions apply too, so read your policy carefully before purchasing.

What Happens If You Decide to Ignore Travel Advisories

Each year, many tourists choose to visit certain countries despite their government’s warnings. If you decide to do the same, consider taking the following safety precautions.

Register Yourself

Let your government know when and where you will be traveling so that you can be reached in an emergency. U.S. citizens can register themselves here; Canadians can do so here. Other countries have similar programs.

Check In

Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that they know where you’re supposed to be and when. Stay in touch on a regular basis by email, phone, text, or Skype.

Stay Informed

It can be tempting to take a complete break from the world when you’re on vacation, but if you’re in a place where conditions are unstable, you’ll want to keep yourself posted on what’s happening by following the news on your phone.

Be Prepared

Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Find your home country’s embassy or consulate in the area you’ll be visiting and store its contact details in your phone. But be aware of what the embassy—and your home government—can and cannot do. (For example, if you’re injured, the State Department can help you find medical assistance in your destination, but you or your relatives will have to foot the bill.)

Protect Yourself

Purchase a travel insurance policy after reading carefully to see what is and isn’t covered. Consider getting a policy with a “cancel for any reason” option so you can back out of your trip without penalty if you feel uneasy. Check out 10 Smart Ways to Carry Money While Traveling to help shield yourself against crime. Finally, do your research; read up on the political or cultural situation of the area you’re visiting and know exactly which threats you might face.

Where to Find Travel Warnings, Advisories, and Alerts

Below are a few governments offering travel advisories in English. (Keep in mind that the State Department does not offer information about U.S. territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, so you’ll need to turn to foreign governments for any advisories about these destinations.)

The downside of travel alerts and advisories is that they can strike more fear into travelers than necessary. But read as a precaution, travel warnings and alerts can provide even the most seasoned travelers with the latest information, and are a good refresher for how to handle an emergency should you encounter one.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Kate Sitarz contributed to this story.

Budget Travel Money

9 Sneaky Travel Costs You Might Forget to Budget For

When you’re planning out the cost of a trip, you probably budget for the big stuff: airfare, accommodations, car rental, tours, cruise fares. But while that back-of-the-envelope estimate will get you into the ballpark of what your trip will cost, there are plenty of other smaller travel expenses that could make a big impact on your budget. If you’re sick of coming home to unexpectedly high credit card bills after every vacation, check out this list of hidden travel expenses to anticipate and budget for.

Souvenirs and Gifts

Some travelers pick up a couple of fridge magnets or other tchotchkes on every trip, while others splurge on expensive wines and local handicrafts to bring home for themselves, friends, and family members. Know your shopping style and budget accordingly.

Pet Care

Leaving your furry friends behind? Don’t forget to budget for their care. The average cost of boarding a dog ranges from $40 to $60 per day, while cats are a little cheaper at $20 to $30 on average. On longer trips, these travel costs can be significant—so you’ll want to plan for them.


Bottled water at the airport. A mid-morning coffee break at a museum. A couple of beers at the pub. These beverages might only cost a few dollars here and there, but it all adds up, especially if you’re traveling with a companion who’s also running up a tab. Consider adding a small daily cushion into your budget for these types of incidental drink purchases (and throw in a few extra bucks for snacks as well).

Transportation Around Your Destination

Most of us budget for major transportation costs such as a rental car or lengthy train trips, but where we often fall short is in smaller expenses such as gas, public transportation, rideshares, or taxis. And have you accounted for how you’re going to get to and from the airport? Build these travel costs into your budget, too.

Airline Fees

Not much comes free with your airline ticket these days—some carriers are even charging for carry-ons. Consult SmarterTravel’s ultimate guide to airline fees to get an idea of which extras you might end up paying for, from snacks and meals to seat selection.


The scope of this expense depends on where you’re traveling, the local tipping culture, and the type of trip you’re taking. For example, it’s customary to tip both your guide and your bus driver on multi-day group tours in many parts of the world, and most cruise lines charge a per-day gratuity that is split among the staff. You may also want to leave a few dollars a day for your hotel housekeeper or give something to the bellhop who carries your bags.

See The Ultimate Guide to Tipping for Travelers to learn more about how much you should budget.

Hotel Extras

Aside from tips to various members of the staff, you may also need to shell out for other hidden travel expenses at hotels. Wi-Fi, parking, minibar purchases, laundry, and resort fees are just a few of the unexpected things you might find yourself paying for during your stay. To see more possibilities, read about the most common hidden hotel fees.

ATM and Currency Conversion Fees

When traveling abroad, you can expect to pay a few fees here and there to get access to the local currency, either when withdrawing cash from an ATM or using your credit card to pay a larger bill. Even if your own bank doesn’t charge a flat fee or a percentage for foreign ATM withdrawals (and many do), the local bank that operates the machine often will.

Fortunately, currency conversion fees for credit card purchases are usually easier to avoid. See Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, for a list of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.

The Unexpected

Into this category falls everything else—like the time I caught a cold in Australia and had to buy medicine, and the time I didn’t pack warm enough clothes and had to buy a thick, cozy sweatshirt in Canada. You can draw up the world’s most detailed budget, but there will inevitably be a few items that crop up without warning.

I like to budget an extra $25 a day for “miscellaneous” expenses on every trip. While I rarely end up spending that much, it gives me some wiggle room—and some peace of mind.

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Health & Wellness Security

6 Ways to Get Home Safely from Abroad During an Emergency

Following President Trump’s recent announcement of a ban on travel from Europe due to COVID-19, chaos ensued: U.S. citizens abroad scrambled to get back into the country before the ban kicked in, waiting in long lines or paying exorbitant prices to get one of the few available tickets home. Though the Trump administration later clarified that the ban did not apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents, the ever-shifting regulations and the evolving pandemic have left many travelers needing to make an emergency departure from the countries they’re visiting.

While the novel coronavirus pandemic is a unique situation, there are plenty of other instances when you might need to make an emergency departure in the middle of a trip, from impending hurricanes to sudden political unrest. If you ever find yourself in a similar high-risk scenario, the following tips will help.

Contact Your Airline as Soon as Possible

Airlines will be aware of the situation and often will rebook you for free and with no questions asked—though their call centers and airport service desks will quickly become swamped. If you’re having trouble getting through to an agent in the country where you’re located, see if someone back home (such as your spouse or other family member) might have better luck calling the airline’s toll-free U.S. phone number and making changes on your behalf. (Make sure the other person has your confirmation number and other pertinent information.) Be patient and prepare to wait in line or on hold for up to several hours.

Keep Your Wits About You

It can be difficult to stay calm in a crisis, but it’s worth slowing down and prioritizing what’s most important. Keep your passport and wallet secure and close to hand, make sure your cell phone is charged, and program essential emergency numbers into your contacts (this could include the local equivalent of 911 as well as numbers for the nearest embassy, your travel insurance company, and your airline).

Take Care of Yourself

Sleep may be impossible while you’re waiting out the hours before an emergency departure, whether wailing sirens are keeping you up or you’re simply glued to your phone for the latest news. Still, take care of your health as much as you can by eating well, staying hydrated, and trying to rest when you can.

Register Your Trip with the State Department

U.S. citizens can sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to register their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Doing so can give you access to information from the local embassy as well as help friends and family at home contact you in an emergency.

Go to the Airport Far Earlier Than Usual

When everyone is trying to escape at the same time, expect long lines and chaos at the airport—especially because some types of local emergencies (such as health crises or problems affecting public transportation) could lead to limited staffing. Allow several extra hours to get through check-in and security lines.

Muster as Much Patience—and Perspective—as Possible

Big crowds, long lines, and high stress levels can lead to short tempers, but losing your cool or treating others unkindly will only make things worse for everyone. When you feel anxiety or anger rising, take a few deep breaths and try to keep the situation in perspective. In local emergencies there are likely a lot of people who are worse off than you are.

Top Picks for Staying Safe and Healthy while Traveling

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Elissa Leibowitz Poma and Leigh Smythe Merino contributed to this story.